Hugo Rifkind

Like every referendum ever, this EU vote will solve nothing

After Scotland, does anyone really expect this will answer the Europe question for once and for all?

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

I suppose, if you could look deep into the mind of somebody who was passionately keen that Britain should leave the European Union then, in among things like old episodes of Dad’s Army and unassailable convictions that Cornwall produces some perfectly good vintages, and so on, you might also spot a vision of the future.

In this vision, our referendum will have been and gone and Britain will have seen the light and left the EU. Everybody will have been convinced. Even Nick Clegg. The question will have been settled for a generation at least, and there will be no need to talk about it anymore and we’ll be able to get on with doing all the things that those blasted Europeans have been preventing us from doing for the past four decades. Whatever they were.

Likewise, if you peered into the mind of a passionate British advocate of the EU, and you brought along a translator, because they’re obviously dirty polyglots to a man, then you might also find a vision of the future. In this one, Britain will have resoundingly voted to stay in, and Nigel Farage will be feeling so cravenly silly about everything that he’ll have crawled off to open a tiny pub in the furthest reaches of Kent, where he’ll keep flouting the smoking ban in the hope that somebody will arrest him, but out of cruelty no one ever will. Here and there, residual pockets of Eurosceptics might linger on, but they’ll be cared for in their own communities, possibly with the help of grants from Brussels. And likewise, the matter will be settled and nobody will want to talk about it all ever again.

Just like, in other words, almost no referendum ever. As we surely ought to have learnt from Scotland, what we are not about to do is resolve anything. Nothing will end. Nobody will calm down. People with entrenched views will not climb out of their trenches. Afterwards, everything will be exactly the same.


I assume, of course, that we’re going to stay in. I assume that because the only people I can find anywhere who think differently are Scottish Nationalists gamely hunting for a reason to claim nationalism is only what southerners do, the English bastards. Even most of the Outies I know think we’re going to stay in, and are mighty glum about it. Probably, as things unfold, we’ll have lots of polls saying we’re staying in, then a week of rogue polls that say we’re going out, then a week of panic from people who really want us to stay in, and then we’ll stay in.

And the thing we will be staying in, of course, will be pretty much exactly the same as the thing we’re in already. I keep reading about David Cameron ‘talking tough in Europe’ and being ‘confident of getting Britain a better deal’ and I cannot for the life of me figure out what he wants. Does anybody know? Nobody will budge on freedom of movement, nor could our economy stand it if they did. There will be some constitutional waffle in which Brussels promises not to make us do some stuff that the French wouldn’t stand for anyway, and some minor tinkering with benefits which will have the total wholesale end result of making about two-and-a-half Romanian carpenters in Wigan almost think about moving to Hamburg for a bit. There exists a great and sweeping conspiracy in British politics and media to pretend that all of this is not total balls. But it is.

Cameron has an eye now on the post-referendum. You can tell. His announcement last week that only British citizens would get a vote — and EU citizens resident here would not — felt iffy, morally speaking, but was best understood as a helpless admission that this whole referendum is already a massive concession to Britain’s noisy Outie minority, happening deep in Outie territory and under Outie rules, because it’s only the Outies who want it. And yet, the crucial thing about Outies is that they aren’t going to stop wanting it, not even once they’ve had it. This argument is not about to be settled. It is just about to get louder.

High fidelity

Keep an eye on the government’s ban on legal highs. The Conservative manifesto pledged to outlaw all the horrible chemicals kids smoke and snort for fun these days, on account of them being easier to get hold of than the straightforward, honest illegal narcotics we had when I were a lad.

Certainly they’re worth banning, but I’m on tenterhooks to see how they’ll go about it. Chemical compositions are easily tweaked, meaning there’s no point in specifically banning a substance, because another not-quite-identical one springs up days later. Banning substances intended for human consumption won’t work, either, because these things all claim on the packaging that they aren’t. One of these days, a government will click that every effort ever devised to stop people putting horrible things into their bodies has only led to them putting even more horrible things into their bodies. Although I don’t think it will be this one.

edinburgh

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • blandings

    Save some money – let you subscription lapse – it worked for me

    • Mc

      Certainly Rifkind isn’t a sound reason to subscribe. His self-satisfied, snide commentary in the media and on Twitter isn’t a pretty sight.

  • Village Idiot

    However, if we voted to be out, then things would be very different. Yes there would be people unhappy about that, and pressing for a return, but we would be out, and from the experience of the Norways of this world I reckon the appetite for a return would diminish.

    • tjamesjones

      we’re not going to vote out. So nothing is going to change. Outies know it, which is why most of the comments here, by Outies, are vague conspiracy theories rather than, say, a clear and coherent argument for leaving the EU.

      • Village Idiot

        I can only hope that you are wrong. But until the time comes, since we are not dealing in ‘facts’ I can speculate. Can’t I?

      • Jack_H

        If it were so clear cut why didn’t Major call a referendum?It would certainly have made his government more stable.

        The real reason for no referendum is that they are terrified of losing it,the EU is unpopular in this country,a full and frank debate would be healthy and would result in us leaving.

      • AgZarp

        Do you need convincing?
        I see plenty enough arguments for leaving the EU in the comments sections, but I have yet to see a clear and coherent one for staying in.

        • JoeCro

          Leaving the EU would have substantial negative impacts on the British economy and cost jobs and harm the prospects of increasing prosperity in the future.

          • AgZarp

            What substantial negative impacts?

          • JoeCro

            The influence of the UK would decline substantially outwith the EU, experts agree that leaving the EU would significant negative impacts on the UK economy and cost Brutish jobs. It would put the position of the UK on the UN security council at risk and imperil the human rights of British citizens.

          • AgZarp

            Okay, and how would this all happen?
            Also, which experts?

          • JoeCro

            Why don’t you clearly demonstrate how leaving the family of European Nations would further the interests of the UK ? Brexit would cost jobs and decrease British influence on world affairs. The social and economic cost is just not worth it.

          • MA0

            Shame we didn’t join the Euro like the experts recommended.

            It seems to me that leaving would allow us to remove great swathes of loony socialist law which throttles productivity and depresses all the EU economies. Globally we are in an era of exciting growth, but the EU isn’t seeing much of it. The EU is the only shrinking economic trading bloc. Only by leaving can we show the way back to sanity and prosperity. Britain has governed itself successfully in the past, and it can again. Freedom sometimes means the freedom to thrive.

          • JoeCro

            The UK already governs itself, it does however make sense to pool some aspects of sovereignty with our European neighbours. We live in an interdependent world. Taking the North Korea option of isolationism is destined to fail, the UK is not strong enough to stand alone.

          • T Red

            Are you nick clegg in disguise? You have zero proof for anything you have just said so stop fearmongering

          • goodsoldier

            Pooling sovereignty is like pooling marriage. You no longer have any authority or decision making capacity over your own family and have to vote with all the neighbors whether you get to have sauerbraten on Tuesday night. Who needs it? Your wife will belong to other husbands to be distributed equally among 28 men. You like that, don’t you?

          • Dominic Stockford

            How can it be said we govern ourselves? Over 70% of our laws are made by the European Parliament and the European Court – bodies in which we are already too small to effect change.

          • JoeCro

            Enhanced workers rights brought about by the EU have been of benefit to vast majority of the UK population.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Not in my experience of working.

          • Ipsidixit

            Family of European nations? Since when were Bulgarians, Roma, Turks (inevitably) part of my family?

          • goodsoldier

            Before the EU, Britain was like Somalia, right? There was no life worth living before the EU. Dumbo!

          • Ipsidixit

            You are a Scot so of course you want to remain in the EU. We English are either hostile or indifferent to the EU but never enthusiastic for it.

          • goodsoldier

            Poor brainwashed man.

        • tjamesjones

          Like the ScotNats, pre election Kippers and other minority interest groups, you confuse your passion for the issue with the public mood. Most people don’t much care about the EU, heck, don’t particularly have much love for it. But will choose the status quo. There doesn’t need to be any argument for staying in the EU, it’s just a vote for not changing anything. Referendums are not equal to both sides – there are 2 votes available: change something, or don’t change it. Normally people vote for don’t change it.

      • goodsoldier

        I guess you haven’t been reading the many reasons why people want to leave the EU for the last 15 years. You and Hugh RIfkind are just trendy sheep and live in the shallow moment. I can’t see how Hugh is journalist as he never has anything serious or interesting to say. He is a bimbo. Why doesn’t he buckle down and lucubrate on EU matters and learn for himself what may be terrible about staying in. He has no insight if only Dad’s army comes to mind. Doesn’t he find it odd that Great Britain has to ask permission of the EU for the most crucial aspects of its governance? This should be enough for any intelligent person to want to get out. If we end out staying in, I think Parliament should close down and all MPs fired. No use paying a salary if the job is done elsewhere. The Parliament can become a housing complex for migrants from Africa.

        • tjamesjones

          how sweet. I don’t think you really know much about me ‘goodsoldier’, but then nor do you know much about how to make a case to convince a majority (that is, more than 50%) of voters to leave the EU. The onus is on you if you care about the issue, not the rest of us who really aren’t bothered. Vague statements about ‘crucial aspects of governance’ aren’t going to bring home the bacon now, are they?

  • j33per

    Nothing will change if the UK stays in? You’ve got to be joking. Staying in will mean moving into the abyss together with that morally and financially bankrupt EU.

    • Mary Ann

      That is a very sweeping statement with no justification.

      I can do that as well. leaving the EU is silly.

      • goodsoldier

        What do you personally get out of this? Are you Leon Brittan resurrected by the Devil?

      • T Red

        Staying in the EU is silly, as is tax payers money going to fund your comments

  • explain that

    If the EU vote will solve nothing as no one of merit will make the ‘out’ case, then we might as well get on with it, put this baby to bed and move on to greater things. Of course, in this media day and age, we cannot do that – we need a filler diversion to divert from the really important things which will be privately discussed and changed by those who run this society.

    • Sharon Fruitcake

      What? Fred the Shred has been jailed by Theresa’s secret courts and no one can report it?

  • Lady Magdalene

    If the whole thing is a concession to the “outies” then why has Cameron deliberately rigged the question to favour the IN campaign. He must know that the only way the result could ever be seen as free and fair was to have a question that didn’t favour IN.
    I’m sure when the British conquered Ireland, they thought the issue was resolved. But the Irish “Outies” thought otherwise. They had a sense of Nationhood, Sovereignty and independence that couldn’t be extinguished.
    I expect, within a few decades of the EU blatantly imposing more and more Diktats and bullying the smaller and weaker members, a whole series of “IRA-ETA” style movements will be formed and the arguments about Sovereignty will move to a different level.

    • JoeCro

      An ‘armed struggle’ to bring about Brexit appears somewhat unlikely.

      • Clive

        Small beginnings. Irish Republicanism was started quite quietly by Wolfe Tone, a Protestant in the 18th century but then Fenians invaded Canada in 1866 and later.

        Perhaps the anti-EU people could invade Majorca – or somewhere more meteorologically convivial than Canada, at any rate

      • goodsoldier

        God sees the Truth, but waits.

    • Mary Ann

      Because Cameron knows that staying in is the only sensible thing to do, there would never have been a referendum if he wasn’t scared of his own Euroskeptics and ukip. He doesn’t want to go down in History as the idiot who took us out of Europe. Besides if the outers cannot understand a simple question they should not be voting on the future of the rest of us

      • goodsoldier

        What about the idiot that kept us in the EU? We are never getting out of Europe, Leon, only out of the EU, hopefully.

  • milford

    ‘because it’s only the Outies who want it.’ This eejit makes it sound as if anyone not wanting to be ruled by an unelected foreign bureaucracy needs their head looking into.
    Yes Hugo it’s so far out to want to be governed by ones own elected government. Just crazy man..

    • Mary Ann

      the EU parliament is far more democratic than Westminster, the EU uses PR so large groups of voters don’t get ignored as they do under FPTP

      • milford

        Wow! Could you tell me how I go about voting on who is ruling the EU? I wasn’t aware that I even could! What great news this is. I’ll be down that polling station as fast as my legs can carry me next time there’s a vote. And there I was thinking I couldn’t vote on EU leadership.

      • Aberrant_Apostrophe

        The EU Parliament isn’t the problem: it’s the unelected Commission, which frames new legislation for the EP to rubber stamp.

      • T Red

        The Eu may well be PR but the unelected commision still makes all the rules. The elected members are then made to vote on these rules without having enough time to scrutinize what they are. Literally hundreds of votes can take place in one day for whole host of new rules. Are you being paid by the EU to talk them up Mary Ann?

      • goodsoldier

        Yes, Leon. We trust you like good children.

  • misomiso

    You;re right on the referendum changing nothing. Us lot, the outers, will find an excuse to cry betrayal and contest the 2020 election and if we win on a moderate platform we can just legislate to get powers back as Parliament is Soveriegn.

    Best just to leave now and get it over with.

    • Mary Ann

      So the outers would be prepared to overthrow the result of a democratic referendum to get us out of a union they say is undemocratic, how undemocratic.

      • misomiso

        No.

        But how long is a referendum binding for? Why should it last 30 years? And in this country Parliament is Sovereign. Parliament can legislate to take back Fisheries if it wants, its just our MPs CHOOSE not to.

  • Mc

    Rifkind the Sage at it again with deep insights and rock solid predictions.

  • John Carins

    Voting “out” will solve an awful lot more than staying in. For a start an independent Britain could repair its own union. Further political integration into the EU will only pull the UK apart. “Out” is obviously the best choice. .

    • Mary Ann

      Repair it’s own union, your joking, both Scotland and Wales want to be part of the EU

      • goodsoldier

        That’s because, like eastern European countries, they think they’ll get huge handouts. Socialist mentalities, you see.

  • The Wiganer

    The pro-EU camp are very worried about apathy. Whilst anti-EU voters are willing to climb barricades to vote, a lot of the pro-EU support is very soft. Understandable when you are being asked to vote for an institution that treats the electorate with contempt.

    Many people expressing a desire to remain in the EU aren’t that bothered and many will not vote. Meaning the percentage for the outers will be higher.

    That is why EU-lovers are nervous despite the current polls.

    • JoeCro

      Withdrawal from the EU is a big worry, it would cost British jobs and damage the economy.

      • MA0

        Staying on the sinking ship is a big worry. It would cost British jobs and damage the economy.

      • Clive

        That is a quite transparent lie that was busted when it was deployed to make us enter the euro.

        We did not join the euro – nothing happened, nothing at all.

        • Mary Ann

          JoeCro isn’t lying, he is expressing an opinion that is different to yours.

          • Aberrant_Apostrophe

            It’s a lie if he knows it isn’t true.

          • goodsoldier

            Do you want an apple, teacher Leon?

        • T Red

          Mary Ann and Jocro need to change their usernames to paid EU propagandists

      • goodsoldier

        In the EU we are serfs. See GREECE!

    • goodsoldier

      All they have to say is that staying in the EU means you are not homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, racist, old. If you want to stay in your are dead cool and modern! You are a hipster with a social conscience. You will have many friends and go places.

  • AgZarp

    “His announcement last week that only British citizens would get a vote — and EU citizens resident here would not — felt iffy, morally speaking”

    Goodness, yes, my heart bled with worry.

    Of course it’s only the “Outies” who want it you immense fool. It’s only the “Innies” who want in. Any other blinding enlightments you wish to let loose?

  • davidofkent

    The EU traditionally demands a new referendum each time it gets the ‘wrong’ decision. That will happen fairly soon in Scotland. The last UK referendum on the EU lasted for 40 years, so that’s not a bad record. I think the tide is moving against the EU for a number of reasons of which we are all aware. Actually, the Europhiles have been doing nothing but giving us the benefit of their ‘wisdom’ for a couple of decades, so it’s about time that the Eurosceptics fought back. As always, the Europhile argument is based on ‘keeping close to nurse, for fear of something worse’. That’s fair enough but a bit weak. What we need is a vision of how well the UK will do when it is once again trading fully with the rest of the world.

    • JoeCro

      Leaving the EU would hurt trade. The European Union is the biggest economy in the world.

      • MA0

        Leaving the EU will help trade. The European Union is the biggest economy in the world, and a net exporter to Britain, so will enjoy a mutual trade agreement, which we already had, as do many other non-EU countries. Leaving will also enable us to revert to the outward looking country we once were, and improve trade relations with the English-speaking world, the Commonwealth, the USA, India, China, et cetera. By leaving we may also have an influential rôle in helping the EU to transform itself into a more democratic, accountable, liberal, non-protectionist, open, transparent, outward-looking group of countries. Who knows, if we leave the EU it might even submit a proper set of accounts one day!

      • goodsoldier

        Who told you that? Stasi informant Merkel? Christine Lafarge?

    • Mary Ann

      The EU doesn’t stop us trading with the rest of the world, we do trade with the rest of the world.

      • Aberrant_Apostrophe

        True, but the EC stops us from setting up tariff-free trading agreements.

      • goodsoldier

        Not without EU permission, Leon.

  • greggf

    “And yet, the crucial thing about Outies is that they aren’t going to stop wanting it, not even once they’ve had it. This argument is not about to be settled.”

    That’s right Hugo Rifkind. We’ll expect a second referendum if the result is “wrong”.

  • Sheumais

    Didn’t Cameron say he would ignore a vote to leave anyway, or are we supposed to have forgotten he said that?

  • Bertie

    “Like every referendum ever, this EU vote will solve nothing
    After Scotland, does anyone really expect this will answer the Europe question for once and for all?”

    Well at least, Mr Firkind, it will mean everyone under the age of 63 has finally had a vote on the European question because most of us have , to date, not had such an opportunity.

    There will be costs remaining within the EU if it continues with its excessive bureaucracy, its sole goal of Political Union on Socia.ist prinviples when the RoTW is becomign more and more competitive. There will also undoubtedly be costs leaving, rebalancing trqade agreements, some companies leaving the UK, others possibly arriving.

    But what it all boils down to is

    Do you want to have the basic right to choose who crosses the border into the UK and who has the right to stay in this country or not.

    Ultimately, given we live in a dmocracy Mr Rifkind, and bearing in mind the “significance” of this European push to ever closer union on our soveriengty as an independent nation, every British citizen of eligible age(18+) should be given a vote on the matter.

    It’s quite ridiculous that Miss Sturgeon thinks European citizens should have a say in whetehr Britain remains in the EU, but not that the English shouldnt have a say in whether Scotland remains part of Britain. Her lack of consistency is very visible.

    • Mary Ann

      The people who should get a chance to vote should be those who are most affected, i.e. the 2 million EU citizens living in Britain and the 2 million British citizens living in mainland Europe, even if they are not thrown out of the countries they are living in many of them will have to leave because they won’t be able to afford private health insurance and frozen pensions.

      • Aberrant_Apostrophe

        By that logic, the vote should extended to anyone who has a right to emigrate to the UK. That’s 4.7bn people at the last count. As for heath insurance and pensions, you have fallen for the usual pro-EU propaganda of believing that reciprocal agreements – which were in place before the UK joined the EU – would cease to exist.

      • goodsoldier

        How about letting the entire Africa vote while we are at it. After all, they all want to migrate here eventually so they should have a say. Aren’t you caring and compassionate, Leon?

      • Bertie

        How does that work?

        Do you realyl think 2 million Non Brits should effectively tell 63million Brits how they should be ruled???

        Excuse me.

        Sounds akin to European facsism that is personified in how the EU operates.

        ” many of them will have to leave because they won’t be able to afford private health insurance and frozen pensions.”

        As an aside, what has leaving the EU got to do with private health insurance? We have the NHS which apaprently gives free treatment to the rest of the bloody world every day – too our detriment such that when we ned it, we have to wait three monhts., despite paying into the pot for decades just so someone else who’s paid bugger all gets treated right away.

  • I favor the European referendum while the British have to understand that Europe is a economic and political project sustainable European social

  • Clive

    As I’m sure others have mentioned, this starts to go wrong at:
    …Just like, in other words, almost no referendum ever. As we surely ought to have learnt from Scotland, what we are not about to do is resolve anything. Nothing will end. Nobody will calm down. People with entrenched views will not climb out of their trenches. Afterwards, everything will be exactly the same… (my emphasis)

    ..which is ludicrous given the example of 1975 on this very subject which caused the issue to go away for 40 years. I’d call that a generation and more

    Then, of course:
    only British citizens would get a vote — and EU citizens resident here would not — felt iffy, morally speaking, but was best understood as a helpless admission that this whole referendum is already a massive concession to Britain’s noisy Outie minority, happening deep in Outie territory and under Outie rules, because it’s only the Outies who want it.

    ..aside from the loathsome whininess of it, he clearly is an ‘In’ person lying on the floor and drumming his heels because things are not going his way. I’ve also a suspicion that in ‘Outie’ he hopes to create a mot du an but it’s a bit weak, to say the least

    I suppose this is the quality of debate to expect. The pro-EU people are now generally of the ‘Right’. It was not ever thus. Michael Foot; Tony Benn and Peter Shore were all for leaving the EEC – as was Enoch Powell. Yet they accepted the result.

    I have formed a theory that the ‘Right’ generally means ‘intellectual’ whereas the ‘Left’ generally means ’emotional’. The downsides of the Right are coldness and insensitivity and of the Left, irrationality and lying.

    I fear the pro-EU people in this campaign are of the Left.

  • Kevin T

    FYI, the referendum is wanted and is being held because successive governments have given away powers they do not own to a foreign government without asking the permission of the people who own them. Cynically or not, the Tories promised this referendum, they won the election and they have to deliver it.

    Just about every debate I have witnessed on the EU began with a majority for staying in (ie: the status quo) and ended with the pro-EU side being thoroughly demolished. You have no arguments. You never cite any convincing reasons for being in the EU that would appeal to people outside the metropolitan middle class or the boards of the big corporations. Instead you rely in weary, scaremongering claims about jobs and the economy which every Eurosceptic knows how to debunk, plus the highly dubious implication that without the EU we’d be at war with Portugal or Belgium. Probably.

    Also in our favour, in all likelyhood the EU referendum will play out against a backdrop of Greece crashing out of the Euro and Germany demanding a central economic policy and further integration. And the “renegotiation” will end with no meaningful concessions related to people’s main concern about our membership, unchecked immigration.

    I wouldn’t bet too heavily on winning.

  • Barba Rossa

    Scotland will decide if England is allowed to leave.

  • Nicholas_Keen

    “His announcement last week that only British citizens would get a vote —
    and EU citizens resident here would not — felt iffy, morally speaking”

    I just don’t get that sentiment at all. The path is clearly marked for anyone who wants the vote: make the commitment to Queen and country and take the steps needed to become a British citizen.

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